Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik: refurbished Times Forum has "blown away my expectations"
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik couldn't contain his enthusiasm Monday talking about the $40 million refurbishment to the St. Pete Times Forum, which fans will get their first full-scale look at in the team's home opener against the Panthers. All new seats, a new organ, better lighting and two Tesla coils that are supposed to shoot lightning about 20 feet to celebrate Tampa Bay goals. The coils may not be ready for tonight's game, but Vinik said the renovation has "blown away my expectations."
Vinik also spoke about why he spent so much on an arena he does not own and how it is "not on my horizon" to ask Hillsborough County, which owns the building, for reimbursement. He also jokingly deflected a question about if he is interested in buying the Rays.
On seeing the St. Pete Times Forum transformed: It’s fun. We’ve been looking forward to this date six, seven, eight months now. The curtain comes up now and I think our construction workers did a great job.
On his expectations: It surpassed my expectations definitely. The outside deck looks terrific and the organ and the lights where it says Tampa Bay Lightning looks terrific. It’s definitely has blown away my expectations. It’s been great.
On putting $40 million into an arena he doesn’t own: The equation is being a world class organization and customer service and a great environment for hockey games and a great environment for the circus and everything else that comes into our building. This building has great bones but it needed money put into it and it needed to have a soul and it needed to be such that everybody who is in this place knew it was in Tampa Bay, so putting money into the facility is the right thing to do and right for the community and for all our constituencies.
On what the payoff will be from a refurbished building: We think to be world class and to be really looked up to in this Tampa Bay area we have to do everything at the top of our game. We wanted this building to showcase the season well.
On perhaps someday asking the county, which owns the building, to reimburse some of the money: Not on my horizon. I mean, what matters right now is that we did what’s right for the community and what’s right for this building, and tonight’s a night to enjoy it and embrace it.
On going from 5,000 to 11,000 full season tickets: I’ve done my best to hire terrific people, and we’re very fortunate there, and I know they’ve worked hard. Whether it’s the building renovation, or the team we put on the ice or the leadership here or the community leadership program or the volunteering, we’re trying to do as much as we can to be part of the community and be a world class organization. Hopefully, the community is embracing it.
On if that really resonates with fans: I hear it every day when we’re out in the community and talking to community leaders, to fans, all kinds of people in the area, so I do think it’s resonating. And by the way, we did get a lot of momentum because our team did a great job last year. We didn’t achieve the final goal, but getting within a game of the Stanley Cup final, I think that certainly helped our momentum.
On perhaps buying the Rays: Can we get this right first? … I like (Rays owner) Stu (Sternberg) and I have a lot of respect for them. I think they’ve had a tremendous season on the field. I like Stu a lot and I think they’ll do the right things. All our focus here is on hockey and this building.
On how the Tesla coils came about: I don’t know if (CEO) Tod (Leiweke) said that or I said that. We all said we’re the Lightning. It’s group think. When you get a lot of creative minds sitting together it doesn’t matter whose idea it was. We’re the Lightning. We have to give it a shot and have lightning inside.
On seeing Tesla coils before: I have, the Museum of Science in Boston has them. But I do think we have the largest throw of indoor lightning in the world.
On if the Tesla coils can work: We know it works. We’ve seen it. We still have to choreograph it and get it to work precisely how we want it with the lights and sound with the organ and all that. That’s a work in progress. Frankly, we don’t know how it’s going to work with the lights on. We haven’t tested that yet. It’s not easy to do all this work in four and a half months and it’s just coming together.
On what he’s most proud of in the building: I’d say the feel, the culture. A major objective was to make us all feel like we love the game of hockey in the bowl and we love Tampa Bay in the concourses. This building now, and this is Tod’s nomenclature, has a soul. I think this is a very special place and I’m proud we’re able to achieve this.